'The War' is television at its most profound

Ken Burns's PBS epic about World War II is both timely and timeless.

Ken Burns is back with "The War" (PBS Sept. 23, 8 p.m.), a film that could well be to this Iraq war-weary generation what "Roots" was for its time. That is, television that asks the right questions in the right moment (Can war be good? Is it ever necessary?) and rises to become a cultural landmark for future generations.

This seven-part documentary traces America's journey from insular, provincial state to world superpower, as told from a distinctly American perspective. All the trademark Burns touches are here: newly unearthed, and in many cases stunningly graphic; films and photos, personal reminiscences; haunting music. But there are no experts – only veterans and their families from four compass-point towns: Sacramento, Calif.; Mobile, Ala.; Luverne, Minn.; and Waterbury, Conn. Soldiers, families, and sweethearts retell wartime tales with fresh tears and the perspective of decades. (The series weaves in African-Americans and Japanese Americans, and an early omission of Hispanics and native Americans is redressed with 30 minutes of interviews.) But these are not merely memories of those lost in battle, barbaric behavior, or bodies and minds destroyed for life. They are the many small moments that led a country to transcend itself in ways that changed it – and the world – forever. Grade: A

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