'War' docu blurs lines of history, today's news


WASHINGTON -- Once again, this city is divided into two camps:. those of us who watched "The War" and those of us who didn't.

I found myself among the hardworking, patriotic, loyal Americans who watched "The War." I wouldn't want to be "those other people."

President Bush once said that those other people cut and run. I don't want to do that. I've been accused of being too subtle a voice, so I don't want to put too fine a point on it. I'll just call them America-hating cowards.

AHCs aside, I was so hooked on Ken Burns' documentary "The War," I knew I would watch every installment. It became something of a soap opera in my house. My 12-year-old son, West, would demand to be filled in on the parts he missed -- who died, who lived, where they were. I thought about taking notes.

Everywhere I went in my travels around town, people would divide themselves into two groups -- us and the AHCs. Somehow, the AHCs always said they "meant" to watch the documentary but something got in the way. They always sounded guilty about it, too.

It was an awfully strange feeling watching the bullets and bombs, the broken and mangled bodies in some far-away place with some unpronounceable name in the docu after watching each night's newscasts. I felt like there were two of me: one worrying about our troops on Guadalcanal and the other worrying about our troops in Salahuddin.

There's the "fog of war," and then there is what we have in Washington: the "smog of war." No matter what happens in Washington, the Iraq War overshadows it like a noxious cloud. In the bowels of policyland, we might be arguing about performance royalties or indecency rules, but that all pales by comparison. Thanks to the film by Burns and Lynn Novick, we have two wars. No waiting.

It was my wife, Jeri, who pointed out the postscript at the end of each segment of the seven-part documentary. It reads: "A thousand veterans of the War die every day. This film is dedicated to all those who fought and won that necessary war on our behalf."

I asked Novick about that.

"It isn't specifically a message about Iraq," she said. "Morally ambiguous situations are inherent in what war is, and we need to remember that."

Novick is no pacifist, but after thousands of hours of interviews and research, she's probably as close to knowing what war is like as any noncombatant. The closest I ever came to combat was a police shootout I covered. I'm not sure I want to come any closer.

I wonder what future filmmakers will make of the Iraq War. It's not over, and no one can predict when it will be. With Turkey threatening to invade Iraq's Kurdish north, who can predict where it will end?

I've been a World War II buff since junior high school. I've seen so many pictures, films and maps of Guadalcanal, I used to think I could land at Henderson Field.

One of the things I really liked about "The War" is how it showed the feeling that we as a nation, with all our faults and idiocies, pulled together for a common cause for an immense undertaking of unimaginable proportions. Just once in my life, I'd like to feel that.

"Once you look at war honestly and see what's involved, you might be less likely to go to war," Novick said. "But you have to ask: What would've happened if we didn't get involved? There are situations where you have to go to war."

That goes double for me, and to hell with the AHCs.