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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ken Burns Corrects History, Finally

An edit made, a history restored
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns agreed to re-edit his took his seven-part series for PBS opus on World War ll titled "The War" after months of refusing to give it a second thought. It appears that generous corporate sponsors of PBS were approached by the Latino organization Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility, which warned the public television network that if nothing was done to correct history, it would teach PBS a lesson in economics.
It worked and Burns is back at the editing table to, at the very least, mention that half a million Latinos fought in the war.
Most were Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, which made their omission - and now, their introduction - a poignant reminder of how hard certain people must fight for something as basic as recognition of their very existence.
A link at spotlights one such young WWII soldier in the Navy.
Unlike any other group, the Puerto Ricans from the island who were drafted to the war had not even voted for the U.S. president even as he commandeered them to put their lives on the line. This has been so since 1917, when Puerto Ricans became American citizens by birth right. The same perplexing situation exists even today; Puerto Ricans have an elected representative in Congress who cannot vote on the House floor. It’s another instance of vertiginous injustice in the very seat of democracy. And also today, many Mexicans and other Central Americans cross the border on foot to have a go at a better quality of life in the U.S., and of these, there are thousands who have become soldiers in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to win U.S. citizenship the hard way.
Some are born with it, some fight for it, others never get it. Some get it after they have been killed in battle.
One hopes that the families of those young Latino soldiers who fought and died in WWII received some consolation for their loss, something along the lines of President Lincoln’s eloquent letter in 1864 to a Massachusetts mother who lost her son in the Civil War.
He wrote, in part, "I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the alter of freedom. -Abraham Lincoln."
One hopes that in the future, PBS’s point man on documentaries, Ken Burns, will not make a documentary about our contemporary wars in the Middle East and again omit the contributions of Latinos. It may be as close to a consolation that the fallen soldiers’ families will ever receive.