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'The Civil War' Is Back - But Its Divisive Issues Never Left
September 7, 2015  | By David Bianculli  | 3 comments
 


The Civil War,
the brilliant Ken Burns series presented by PBS in 1990, returns this week, in restored and enhanced condition, for its silver anniversary. Race, as America’s central defining and dividing issue, has never left…

“The whole Birther movement,” Burns told me last week, “which Donald Trump sort of resurrected and kept alive for [such a] long time, is just a polite way of saying the ‘n’ word. You know?

“I mean – race is ever present. It’s why the Civil War came, it’s…the thing that we have to figure out how to make better in order for us to really, truly progress as a country.”

Monday night at 9 ET, PBS presents Part 1 of Burns’ The Civil War, which he directed, and, with Geoffrey C. Ward and brother Ric Burns, also co-wrote. Tuesday through Friday, two installments are shown nightly, and whether or not you’ve seen The Civil War before, watch it again. It looks, and sounds, better than ever before.

And sadly, it’s as topical, and meaningful, as it ever was.

Twenty-five years ago, I reviewed The Civil War on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and closed the review with an excerpt from what I considered an amazing moment from Part 1: the Sullivan Ballou letter, read by Paul Roebling and accompanied by Jay Ungar’s haunting “Ashokan Farewell” music. (Major Sullivan Ballou, left)

It wasn’t until the next day, after all the other reviews were out and The Civil War was seen by record numbers for PBS, that I realized just about everyone had been just as knocked out by the Ballou letter, and segment. It was quoted widely and lovingly, and became known as the very heart of The Civil War – much as Shelby Foote, its most prominent interview subject, became its soul.

For 25 years now, Ken Burns has taken the opportunity provided him by and after The Civil War to make one excellent documentary after another, and he isn’t through yet. But 1990 was a long, long time ago – the same year ABC and David Lynch gave us Twin Peaks – and it more than deserves this silver celebration.

A quarter century ago, in 1990, The Civil War was the very best thing on TV all that week.

In 2015, that still holds true.

 
 
 
 
 
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3 Comments
 
 
James Lehman, Jr.
We have so much history and we have learned so little from it. Thank you, Mr. Burns, for reminding us of what we should be telling our children again, and again.
Sep 21, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Noble Haus
Racist liberals? Now there's an interesting concept. Care to enlighten us further, Mr. R? A full-fledged essay, perhaps?
Sep 8, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
R.
"Race" is only a "defining & dividing issue" to obnoxious, biased, hate-filled liberals
Sep 8, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
 
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